Salt Lake Tribune obit for journalist Ernie Ford

June 4, 2011

The Salt Lake Tribune carried an obituary for my old journalism professor Ernie Ford today.

Small world:  Good words about Ernie came from an official at KSL-Television, Con Psarras, Vice President for Editorials and Special Projects.  Con is former news director at KSL, the job that many said Ernie was perfect for, but  could never have because he wasn’t in with the owners of the station.  Con is also a former colleague of mine from the University of Utah debate squad (he was a much better debater than I)*.

Con Psarras, KSL’s vice president of editorials and special projects, remembered Ford as “a one-of-a-kind character.”

“He was inspirational to a lot of people,” said Psarras, KSL’s former news director. “He was a real journalist who cared about all those fundamental things that make journalists good at what they do. He was a stickler for detail. If you got something wrong, it was not a pleasant experience. Someone said they earned their first layer of thick skin from Ernie Ford.”

Stickler for detail, sure.  Ford was a great copy editor, and as a managing editor he worried about getting things right, for the readers’ sake in addition to avoiding libel suits.  But I didn’t find it unpleasant to get those fact challenges from Ford.  He knew where the weak spots of a story were likely to be, and he asked the questions that exposed those weaknesses to the writer.  I enjoyed that banter and process — which prevented mistakes from getting into print. (There weren’t idiots as editors of the Chronicle — accuracy, shoe leather and decent writing lived in that paper, often.)

Where are schools of journalism these days?  I was shocked that Texas A&M dropped its journalism program a few years back.  The best intern I ever had came out of A&M’s program.  Liz Newlin wrote concisely and well, and she could smell the heart of a news story, and put it into the lead so you’d have to follow the arteries deeper into the thing to see what happened.  Newlin could have been another Ernie Ford — but she married a guy named Taylor (you figure out the married name), went to law school and became a water law expert in Tucson.

Who trains good journalists by the score in good journalism practices anymore?  Who would want to go into such a field, with newspapers coming down around those left in the newsrooms, and with every fourth yahoo with an internet connection blogging away? [Yeah, me too.]

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*  We got a couple of good reporters out of that debate squad.  Good training for a reporter, I think.  Steve Christensen signed up with UPI back when it was still a noble outfit; I don’t know where he is these days.  Tim Weiler reported for several years in and around Salt Lake.   Carolyn Young, one of  our graduate assistants back in the Early Later Than You Think Holocene reported for KSL’s rival, KUTV, but she headed out to Oregon.  Of course, none of them were journalism majors.  Go figure.

 


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